What is Meditation, and How Can I Make it Easy to Practice?🧘🏻♂️
Over the years, many people have asked me about my daily meditation habit. People have asked questions such as:
1. How is it possible to stop thinking?
2. It’s Transcendental Meditation that you do, right? The one propagated by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who taught the Beatles… So, do you have to devote your life to a Hindu guru to practice correctly?
3. How much time do you spend on this every day?
4. Doesn’t introspective meditation interfere with your practice of Nichiren Buddhism?
5. I’ve heard that it’s costly to learn TM - doesn’t the money factor corrupt any spiritual intentions you may be seeking with this practice?
Therefore, based on having practiced TM for fifteen years, I’d like to share my thoughts on this subject and answer some of your questions.
First, there are various kinds of meditation, such as Japanese Zen meditation, Transcendental Meditation, movement meditation, mantra meditation, focused attention meditation, and body-scan meditation. I’ve just named a few familiar and more widely practiced styles.
In Zen, the practitioner usually sits in an erect Lotus position, with their back straight and chins tucked in. The eyes are traditionally semi-closed, and the person focuses their attention inward. In Zen, your attention is broad as you become aware of your thoughts, emotions, and subjective perceptions as these flow along in your mind. While these emotions and thoughts are recognized, you don’t latch on to them but let them go.
Another type of meditation I’ve practiced since 1970 is movement meditation, in the form of Tai Chi. Movement meditation is practiced through Yoga, Qi Gong, relaxed walking, and other forms of gentle movement.
It usually takes three months of bi-weekly lessons with an instructor for you to learn the thirty-seven movement of Tai Chi choreography. But this is just the gross posture-to-posture sequence learning period. A good school or instructor will take you through another three months of fine-tuning the large and small postures and transitions.
This refining period will also teach you the proper weight distribution between both feet and the mind-breath connection with the postures. And, with the breath, so goes the Chi. At this point, you’ll observe your body going through the Tai Chi sequence while your mind is joining your breath to your Chi, and you’ll be “meditating in movement.”
Focused attention meditation is a technique whereby you concentrate on something, external or internal, using one of your five senses; sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Focused attention can be as simple as staring at the moon or a candle flame or listening to a bell or a gong. This practice may sound simple, but as the mind is always looking for something else to do, it’s easy to lose your focus after only a few minutes of this kind of concentration! When you notice yourself distracted by a thought or another image in your head, refocus and continue for the allotted time you had decided.
Mantra meditation is the vocalization of a sound repetitively for some time. This meditation is prominent in many traditional Eastern philosophies such as Buddhism and Hinduism. The repetition of a sound, a word, or a phrase (which can be done either loud or softly), is a tool for quieting the mind. With the chanting of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, the Buddhism I practice is a form of vocal meditation - as is the chanting of the syllable, “Om,” in Hindu-derived spiritual practices.
Body-Scan meditation is a technique for promoting physical relaxation and the release of tension from the body. The preferred posture for this is lying down, face-up, after which you breathe abdominally and “feel” your head and neck relax. Continuing to breathe slowly and deeply, you extend this relaxed feeling to your shoulders, chest, torso, and waist down progressively to your feet.
Some people imagine a soothing breeze blowing down on their body, while others feel like a pleasant ocean wave washes away the day’s stress, and they direct their breath and calm their minds.
Also referred to as Progressive Relaxation, this technique is usually best done before sleeping at night. When I taught group classes in Krav Maga, I would have my students lie on the mat after their active warm-down, and I’d conduct them through a quick Body-Scan Relaxation before wrapping up the day’s training session.
Transcendental Meditation also involves using a mantra, but this nonsensical syllable is not vocalized. It is, instead, heard in one’s mind. In learning TM, one acquires the mantra from an instructor, who passes it to you verbally. Once you’ve memorized it, you don’t say it aloud anymore, but rather, you hear it in your mind when you sit down to meditate. It’s a form of gentle focused attention technique. When you perceive that your mind has wandered away from your mantra, gently go back to your internal chanting without lamenting your stray.
The non-judgmental aspect is important because the mind will always want to do what it does best: think and analyze. So, the purposeful act of quieting the mind and allowing it to remain still is unfamiliar to most of our minds. When I say that, once you notice your mind has wandered away from the meditative focus, you gently return it to the mantra or point of attention so that you don’t mix any emotions with this process. This non-judgmental attitude helps keep the practice objective without injecting your emotional personality into the mix.
Meditation, in its essence, is a disciplined training that works on your brain, leading to positive and healthy states of mind. All of the forms mentioned above of meditation are techniques for improving how your mind works.
I learned Transcendental Meditation with the help of an experienced, certified instructor in Rio de Janeiro. The learning process took four days - four consecutive sessions, wherein I was taught a mantra and meditated with my instructor.
The process of learning TM is steeped in some of the ancient Hindu rituals. During the Initiation Ceremony, the instructor recited some Sanskrit hymns before a portrait of Guru Dev (Maharishi’s guru). Once you learn and embark on the meditation practice, there aren’t any more religious rituals to observe.
And, no - once you learn Transcendental Meditation, you do not enter into a subservient, holy relationship with your TM instructor. Your instructor will usually be readily available to clear any doubts you may have. My instructor, Mr. Kleber Tani, opens his meditation space every Wednesday evening for free group sessions and conducts (paid) weekend workshops in the mountains of Itaipava.
Taking the course in Transcendental Meditation is not cheap! The cost of the four-day training sessions and the initiation ceremony varies from country to country. It tends to be pricey in terms of the local currency and economy. In my case, I had considered taking the course in the States but chose instead to do it in Brazil, as it would be just as valid and less costly for my pocket.
Since learning the basic technique, I’ve also voluntarily taken a paid course titled “The Science of Creative Intelligence” (a study of thirty-three recorded lectures by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi). But, aside from this, there hasn’t been any other money to be paid for doing TM.
Meditation is a practice for improving the functioning of one’s brain, creating coherence between the left and right sides, plus the frontal lobe. The is no way “interferes” with the effects of practicing Nichiren Buddhism, whose chant activates and enriches one’s subjective consciousness. As such, the Buddhist chant of Nam Myoho Renge Kyo energizes the virtues of compassion, wisdom, courage, and creativity, attributes common to all humans. Therefore, as your brain functioning improves from Transcendental Meditation, your thinking is more precise and more coherent and better able to process the personal emotional virtues activated by your practice of Buddhism.
Hundreds of academic scientific studies have been conducted on the benefits of Transcendental Meditation at more than 250 independent universities. These institutions include Harvard Medical School, University of Chicago Medical School, UCLA Medical School, Stanford Medical School, Cedar-Sinai Medical Center, Yale Medical School, and even my alma mater - American University!
It’s been documented that meditation promotes;
- Lower blood pressure
- Improved emotional processing
- Reduced stress and cortisol levels
- Better sleep - decreased insomnia
- Enhanced mood - increased muscle relaxation
- A greater sense of adaptability
- Decrease in the probability of getting cancer
- Increased focus
- Reduction in aggressive feelings
- An increase in compassion
- A better understanding of connection to people
- A healthier aging progression
- An overall improvement in the quality of life
One becomes mindful by practicing meditation daily - intensely aware of your thoughts, sensations, feelings, and environment. We train the brain to be mindful of the present moment. We aim to bring this mindfulness into our mundane activities throughout the rest of the day.
A straightforward meditative technique you can use today is focusing on your breathing. Sitting upright in a comfortable chair, you can close your eyes and follow your breath, inhaling and exhaling. To assist you in this process, you can count your breaths, thinking “one” as you inhale and “two” as you exhale. “One”… “Two”…. “One”… “Two”…
You’ll notice that your mind has wandered and found yourself entertaining another thought. No big deal! Just gently let go of the distraction and return to your focus on relaxed breathing. It doesn’t matter what you were thinking - return to your breathing count.
This act of noticing that your mind has wandered from your meditation focus is an essential step in strengthening your brain. You are now separated from your mind, becoming the observer of your mind’s thinking. Here is where you realize that you are not your mind but, in essence, the observer of the thinking process. You are no longer caught up in your thoughts.
A great benefit of meditation’s mindfulness effect is that you learn that your thoughts don’t have to dictate your actions and moods. For example, if you are experiencing a moment of anger, you realize that you don’t have to remain stuck as an angry person. Now you can observe that you are thinking and feeling and choose to direct your thoughts to something else more productive.
I like to meditate in the morning after waking up and getting out of bed. At that time, it’s still calm around the house, and I can easily sit quietly for twenty minutes. I prefer to meditate in the evenings after my percussion practice hours, just before I do my Buddhist chanting.
I advise you to schedule your meditation session for the best time that fits your daily schedule. It is a practice; by this, I mean that you’ll better accrue its benefits by practicing regularly. Just like you brush your teeth in the morning after rising from bed (and you wouldn’t consider not doing this!), you’ll want to establish meditation as something essential daily!
Establishing a trigger for this is an excellent way to ensure you’ll always do it. It could be,” As soon as I finish breakfast and take my vitamins, I’ll meditate for five minutes!” Make it an essential part of your daily itinerary and stick to it. And once you get into a rhythm and regularly do five minutes, you may want to try meditating for ten minutes. As this gets comfortable, you might like to extend it to fifteen and twenty minutes!
In Transcendental Meditation, we learn to meditate twice daily for twenty minutes at a time. However, if you set up a practice where you’re meditating once a day, you’ll have developed a skill you can use for the rest of your day. The wonderful gift of meditation is that it’s a skill you practice once or twice a day which benefits you for the rest of your time!